Finding the Instagram of your new partner’s ex (or your ex’s new partner) is dangerous territory. A seemingly innocuous curiosity can lead to long lasting effects on one’s mental health and self-worth. As a part of our contemporary condition, the internet preys on our curiosity, making it readily available for us to creep (or be creeped). Not to mention, women are constantly pinned against each other, making comparisons deeply ingrained into all their relationships. According to Social Theorist, Leon Festinger (1954):
“Self evaluation can only be accomplished by means of comparison to other persons, the drive for self evaluation is a force acting on persons to belong to groups, to associate with others” – (p.138)
We compare ourselves essentially to be accepted by others, and in turn, accept ourselves. In my experience, creeping became a habitual act to make myself feel better. Ultimately, it would leave me feeling more anxious and deflated. As you can imagine, it can have negative effects on relationships, leaving you resenting your partner for something he or she can’t control — the past.
For example, Tumblr has always been an amazing platform for me to learn about pop culture, feel connected with strangers, and share my own memories. But I found that with my current relationship, it was a reminder that previous relationships don’t always exist in the past. Instead they live on a digital medium that is accessible and permanent — our embarrassing selfies, inside jokes, and moments where we feel the most vulnerable (like me right now) will live on forever.
I first started seeing my partner around this time last year.We got to know each other through mutual friends and bonded over our respective long distance relationships. After a few months of losing touch, we found ourselves newly single and looking for something non-committal (that last part didn’t turn out well). We started hanging out, and one day we exchanged Tumblr urls. As I write this, I feel silly but the act of creeping someone’s social media account is a preliminary step in most relationships.
His feed was rife with funny anecdotes, well-composed photos of his surroundings, and selfies, but the further I got in his archive, the more it reminded me of his past relationship.
The internal monologue began as I compared myself with his ex. Festinger (1954) discusses the idea that “competitive behaviour, [is] an action to protect one’s superiority” (p. 126). This is exactly how I felt. Although my confidence was diminishing with every scroll of the mouse, I had a visceral reaction to protect the new relationship (and my ego). I would constantly “check up” on her digital presence to make me feel secure in my own. This idea shaped my consciousness and lurked in the back of mind every time I was reminded of her existence. In the end, the unwarranted negativity, competitiveness, and resent was not a result of her. Merely, her presence existing in the archives of my partner’s Tumblr acted as a reminder of my insecurities from past relationships. A catalyst to deal with issues I had with myself.
Cyberstalking, in my case, was an act of compulsion, obsession, and reassurance. It played into my anxiety and insecurities of not being worthy of love. As you can imagine, this process was cyclical: the more I felt insecure, the more I compared myself with others (aka creeped), and the less I felt self-assured. Although comparing yourself with others can promote a sense of healthy competition and self-improvement, it also can foster feelings of resentment and negativity. These experiences remind me (and hopefully you reading this) that there will always be someone or something you feel insecure about. Spare yourself the time and energy and focus on yourself. Do you. Step away from the browser and call a friend to talk it out. These digital mediums will forever exist to further your insecurities, you can’t let them!
I hope you have strength and self-control in all your cyberlurking urges!
Festinger, L. (1954). A Theory of Social Comparison Processes. Human Relations, 7(2), 117-140.